Jamie Christon, CEO at Chester Zoo, said:
“We were extremely concerned to read the speculation surrounding the keeping of elephants in UK zoos yesterday. As a conservation and education charity that has worked closely with Asian elephants for 80 years, as well protecting the species in Assam, India, for more than 14 years, we were understandably very disappointed to learn that decisions were being made about the future of elephants without prior discussion with the UK’s leading zoos and conservationists. Leaking reports and anonymous government briefings to the press is completely unacceptable and is a huge discredit to the those who are working tirelessly to protect these incredible animals.
“However, we understand that the Minister has strongly denied the reports and has now provided reassurance to the conservation community that the Government has no intention to ban the keeping of elephants in the UK – which would quickly undo years of work to conserve these highly threatened species.
“For many years now there has been close collaboration between the Elephant Welfare Group (EWG), the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), and the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), who have been working together to evaluate the highly specialist and scientific care given to elephants in UK zoos over the last 10 years. The draft of the report produced by the EWG for government highlights a range of significant developments in that time.
“Conservationists at Chester have been at the very forefront of these advancements, pioneering new practices to further improve the welfare for elephants in zoos, sanctuaries and in the wild. This includes becoming the first UK zoo to have a multi-generational family herd, successfully utilising protective contact between elephants and keepers, developing new foot health treatments to combat age-related issues and now, our scientists are spearheading vital new research on behalf of the global conservation community to find a viable vaccine for a deadly virus that affects elephants in zoos and the wild, known as EEHV.
“The 10 year EWG report will be submitted to DEFRA in the coming months for review. We look forward to having open discussions with the Minister, DEFRA and the Government about the report and the scientific evidence accompanying it, and hope that it will be given full and proper consideration, and that any resulting legislation will take into account the critical need for UK conservation zoos to continue their vital research that benefits elephants globally.
“Elephants are one of the world’s most persecuted animals and are highly endangered as poaching, habitat loss, disease and conflict with humans have decimated their numbers. We must now work together in finding the best way forward that will ultimately prevent their extinction.”